25 Things I Love About Music


25 Things I Love About Music


I previously shared this list in an abbreviated and improvised manner, through various online platforms in the form of tweets, videos, and even a podcast episode. When I first presented these, I literally chose a number (25) and began listing items. So, it should be no surprise that they came across somewhat loose, and that some of the items could be thrown together into one bigger quality of music and what one might love about it. In hopes of not entirely removing the initial spontaneous exercise, I’ve mostly just reordered things. I encourage you to make your own list. Try this with anything important to you. Use it as a kind of gratitude list, or a meditation on something special to you and the many ways it connects you to life and the people in yours. Share it or keep it secret and safe. Either way, it’s worthwhile. So, here it is: My slightly more detailed written version of the list, with some minor changes in order and wording. 25 things I love about music.


  1. Writing it.


I absolutely love how creating never gets old. In fact, I truly feel it helps keep one’s younger self alive and kicking in some magical way. It’s also exciting to continue to explore new approaches to the writing process. I bought a baritone guitar for the sole purpose of creative exploration. It may seem rather frivolous to go spend some serious dough on an instrument just so you can try something new, with no guarantee of a return. But, I’m also an entrepreneur. The definition of entrepreneur is basically “someone who goes into a venture with absolutely no guarantee of a return in investment.” I’m just fulfilling one of my descriptives! Besides, what came of this frivolity was an album. When I started this series of things I love about music, originally on Twitter, I was on my way to Los Angeles to record an EP of five songs I wrote with said guitar. Just to make sure the songs were ready for the studio, I debuted them live at a show the night before flying out. My intern at the time hadn’t heard them. His response was “very cinematic.” I like that description. It’s sort of epic. This is the sort of thing that still fascinates me about writing music. I can take this piece of wood with steel strings attached to it and, out of the ethos, pull structure and expression together into a cohesive story. In fact, the five songs that make up the EP tell a story. I started by stating the problem. The first lyrics of the first song I penned for the album are, “I just want to tell a story.” That pretty much sums up songwriting and culture in one phrase.


By the way, for those who want to know, here’s a rundown of what a baritone guitar actually is. A standard guitar is tuned, from low to high pitch, on these notes: E, A, D, G, B, E. That’s what we call standard tuning. There are some 40+ additional tunings possible, but this is the most frequently used with the occasional variation of dropping everything one half step… the smallest measured interval in music of the Western World (European origins). An interval is the distance between the pitch of two notes. On a guitar, the half step is marked by a fret. The baritone guitar has a slightly longer neck and stiffer bracing in the body to accommodate thicker strings, which are wound to allow a much lower pitch. Think of the difference in a male tenor voice and a male baritone voice, or the voice of a boy versus a man. Then, the baritone is tuned to the notes B, E, A, D, F#, B. This places it far below that of a standard guitar; an interval of a perfect 4th. Again, for guitarists to understand. If I play the chord shape of a G chord from a standard guitar, on a baritone, it’s now a D chord.




2)Listening To It.


I suppose it’s rather obvious that I’d love listening to music. I suppose it’s also obvious that most people love listening to music. Although, I’ve actually heard of people who aren’t too enthusiastic about it. I haven’t met them, however. But, plain old listening isn’t so much what I’m referring to. While the opportunity can be hard to find when I’m particularly busy, I absolutely love it when I can sit back, turn the down the lights a bit, and turn on some piece of (probably) more complex music and hear every level of it. Closing my eyes, I can see the three dimensional aspect of the music in my mind’s eye. It’s almost like a translucent sculpture of musical symbols floating about in the air. I’ll find myself completely lost in the all-consuming audible beauty and mathematical precision. Try this with Bach’s “Air on a G-string.” It’s quite the ear-opening experience.

The other aspect of listening that I enjoy is how it can awaken a primal sort of pride. I’ll touch on this more in the cultural section.


3)Watching It.


Set down your digital device and get out to a live musical performance. I’m sorry to say, there’s no video that captures it completely. No matter how well it’s done. The video is as much in the heart of the person capturing it, as the music is in the heart of the musician being captured. In order for you to experience a live show, you really need to be there in the flesh. You need your live body amidst the vibrations and feeling the live emotions in the moment. I recommend an intimate venue where you can see the scuffs on the shoes of the artists and the sweat on their faces. Watch how they interact. There’s a subtle communication being shared around the shaping and sharing of the perhaps not-so-subtle language of the music.


4)It’s A World Unifying Device.


This here’s fancy talk for how music is the biggest source of overall connection on the planet. The sciences look to money (power), empire (power), and religion (power), as the three most unifying forces of humanity. I guess they didn’t include music for some reason, but I’m not sure what it is. Maybe it’s because it’s an art form and arts are hard to measure. But, so is power. Music has, for instance, a positive power that causes us to forget the potentially negative aspects of other powers. It pulls use together through a language of authentic  and earth-moving, culture-changing and shaping emotion. We all speak sadness, joy, delight, excitement, and love. So does music.


5)It’s A Universal Language.


In follow-up to the previous point of music unifying people, seeing it as a universal language helps to clarify why and how this may happen. As a written language, it’s rather primitive. As a mathematical language, it’s slightly more advanced. As an emotional and spiritual language it transcends conscious thought to create a worldwide nod of the head to some primal and powerful rhythm we all know.


6)The Culture.


Music tells stories. Our stories are our cultures. You can approach this one from all sides and glean something valuable.


7)Connecting It.


I love connecting music to other things. You know, like I’m doing with this list. When I was teaching in the classroom, I’d ask the kids what they wanted to do for careers and then I’d connect music in some way to their career choice. For instance, if some kid wanted to be a sports professional, I’d point out that the great Walter Payton of the Chicago Bears played drums and studied dance. Scientist? Einstein played piano and violin and considered them very important to his work.


8)The Historical Connection.


Just like culture is our stories and our stories are often told through music, the music of the past tells us much about our history. Through ethnomusicology, we may even be able to use its language-like threads to trace out missing pieces of our history that were seemingly lost. Much the way genetic research is bringing us greater knowledge about our primate backgrounds, musical threads may open new windows to our past. 

And of course, we use the music of the ages to give us a sense of the times and people. I also like correlating fun factoids. Whose music was being played widely in Europe when the American Revolution was happening… that sort of thing. Answer? Mozart.


9)The Wallpaper Effect.


This is a weird one, I know. It comes from what some musicians refer to as a “wallpaper gig.” That’s when we’re hired to play music in the background of a party or restaurant or some similar setting. What I love about the wallpaper gig is how the people that are ignoring the music are actually being effected by the music they’re not listening to. Different tempos and moods in music trigger different brain waves and states of mind. For instance, medium tempo instrumental music can help you concentrate. Slower instrumental music can activate theta waves, which encourage creativity. So, the next time you’re playing a wallpaper gig or ignoring the band in the corner, remember that there’s more going on in the room than you think and it’s all behind the curtains of the mind. So, you can’t ignore the man or woman behind the curtain.


10)Watching Kids Play It.


When kids are not trying to win a contest or make an impression, it’s one of the greatest moments to observe them playing music. They do it with such abandon and freedom of creative spirit, that we all could and should learn something from it. If we could just lose the need to impress or come out ahead in some way, anytime creativity is happening, we may actually accomplish a great deal more. Many studies show that competition actually stymies creativity. 


11)Playing It.


Even people who don’t play an instrument can hum or try to sing. We all like to connect to music n some way. You may connect to it in several of the ways I’ve listed here. If you aren’t trained on a particular instrument, I highly encourage picking one up. It’s incredibly rewarding at any age or skill level. As a professional musician with a lifetime of playing behind me and (hopefully!) ahead of me, I still marvel at how really amazing it is to be able to pick up my wooden box with steel strings (my guitar) and create music out of thin air. With that perspective in mind, you don’t need to be all that accomplished to get a lot out of it and to offer plenty, too.


12)The Math Connection.


I often ask students how they are with math. Whatever their answer, I follow it up with, “well, it’s about to get easier.” It been widely shown through multiple studies that music makes us better at math, which makes us better at problem solving, which makes us better at living day to day in an evermore complex world, which makes you want to pick up an instrument and play for the need to express, which improves your math, which… you get the idea.


13)The Therapy.


What I just demonstrated about the benefits of playing music for our problem solving skills is also applicable to its therapeutic benefits. But we don’t have to play an instrument or sing to experience music as therapy, do we? You know what I’m talking about. That song you turn to when you’ve had a day from hell, or the tune you use to pick up your energy level on a slow day. Don’t let yourself get so washed away in the current of daily life that you forget to make a playlist that  keeps you alive.


14)The Health Benefits.


If we’re finding music therapeutic, it almost goes without saying that we’re benefitting our physical health, too. Mind and body are increasingly being shown to work together with regard to our overall health. I think it’s literally painfully obvious that stress gives us physical ailments. Where did you suppose the term “pain in my neck” came from? I think we’ve just been generally subjected to the bipolarisms of science and spirituality in American society, so we’re disinclined to explore in the grey area between. However, this grey area is where the arts lie. Since we’re talking about music, let’s go ahead and sit happily in the grey and say, “Yep, music heals the mind, body and soul. Let me know when science catches up.” It will.


15)Teaching It.


Have you ever found yourself proud of having shown something new to a friend or coworker or kid? That’s what it’s like every day for a teacher. Now make it something these other people really want to learn, and you’ll understand some of the joy in my life. I’m not sure I need to go any further with this one. It’ll just get heavy with the adjectives. Giving is a huge part of being a complete human. 


16)The People Who Play It.


I guess we can spilt “people who play it” into a few groups; with me, for myself, for you. I appreciate the people who share the stage, studio or living room jam with me. I appreciate the people who perform when I’m in the audience. I appreciate that there are countless of us out here sharing music of all kinds for people of all kinds. I hope you have your favorites and will keep exploring new ones.


17)The People Who Write It.


Obviously, I appreciate songwriters, as I’m one. I generally appreciate the work that goes into anything creative. In fact, I’m well aware of the tremendous amount of really hard work, technically and emotionally, we all need to do when pursuing something we love. I have a special love for the artists I’ve come to know over the years, mostly lesser known ones. We have a wonderful community in my hometown Chicago, and I see elements of it when I’m on the road, too. I also wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without the people that inspired me. Knowing their stories, I often relate back to them when I’m stuck or a bit scattered, both of which happen. But yes, mainly, I just love the people who write music. We’d have a lot of silence without them. I’m honored to join the crowd. I hope it gets bigger.


18)The People Who Buy It.


Not just from me, but that too. As a consumer, I realize that we all have many places we could be putting our money. So, when I find out that someone has spent money on music when they can listen free or on an inexpensive subscription, I’m pretty appreciative. Thanks for keeping folks like myself provided with the necessary tools, like money, that we need to continue to provide you with music. It also shows your appreciation when you pick up a physical album at a show or again, pay for the complete download. And I like seeing people being appreciative. I know how good it feels. I feel it a lot. Thanks.


19)The People Who Share It.


Whether it pays me or not, whether it’s me or someone else, I love when people share music. Because, well, that’s always been the way it gets around most authentically. Our parents were right. Sharing is good.


20)Even The People Who Critique It.


The real job of a critic is to educate the listener. I got that from Corky Siegel. I can’t take credit. But I agree. In fact, whenever I’ve written a review, I’ve kept that in mind. With the almost total transparency we have today, you’re a critic, too. So, I hope you’ll keep this in mind yourself. Please. Thanks.


21)Discovering It.


Most of my listening these days is a search for things I haven’t heard or didn’t explore enough previously. While I still have all the nostalgic stuff in various playlists and get back to it occasionally, I’m more interested in the constant exploration of new music. This doesn’t mean new music altogether, so much as music new to me. It’s really great fun. In the past I’ve gone about it by learning who influenced the artists I liked. Now, I just have a whim and start looking. Try it. It’s fun. But, you know, keep me in your playlist. Please. Thanks.


22)The Evolution.


The evolution of music is never going to stop. So, stop thinking it hasn’t been good since whatever your generation listened to. Your parents said that and it only pissed you off. Stop it. I’m not saying you’re going to love everything you hear. I wouldn’t expect that. In fact, that sounds really boring. But recognizing that the music out there today has grown from lots of music you may love, may make it more palatable. I look forward to what’s coming. Change is inevitable and with the massive changes in our ever-shrinking world, the music is going to reflect it. I know mine has. I have a song that deals specifically with the overwhelm. More than half of the streaming income generated in the music industry is going to independent artists these days. So, that should make it pretty easy to find some you like. Every style is alive and well. Every age of music is influencing younger artists. Have fun with it.


23)Producing It.


Producing an album or stage show is like audio sculpture. You get to form the sounds of the instruments and change the volume and shape of the music in mostly whatever way you like. Except, I would add the caveat that it’s also living sculpture. It’s like a dance in that way. So, choose musicians you trust and who you feel understand your work, if you’re looking to produce. Anyway, it’s really fun and challenging. This is just one explanation of the word “producer,” by the way. There are many uses of it. Executive producer, for instance, refers to the provider of funding. There are producers of beats. There are producers who choose the line-up and have nothing to do with the production of the album or show. It can get complex. As for myself, I’m most of the above with very rare exception. 


24)Making My Living In It.


Whether it stays the same or grows or ebbs or flows, I’m deeply grateful to be doing something I love for a living. Once I realized I didn’t have to worry too much about making a living, I looked for ways to give back, to do more. That’s what allowed me to begin inviting other artists to Guilt By Association Records. I don’t have to make money off the artists because patronage and the GBA Store cover the expenses. I get to build something that doesn’t have dollar signs, or the fear of a a lack of them, tied to it. How I got here is simple. One day I changed my response to a common question; What do you do? My answer went from a hemming and hawing through the lists of the various day jobs I was holding, and how music is this thing I’m hoping to make happen, into: I’m a musician. The follow up question was “Do you make a living doing that?” My follow up answer was an unequivocal “Yes. I do.” Gradually my life responded. Ask me more about manifesting your dreams. It’s often frightening, always hard, and without any question, totally worth it.


25)Whatever You Love About It.


Yes, I actually have an interest in other peoples’ tastes. What’s yours? What do you love about music? What did I miss? Let me know. I look forward to hearing from you. Find what you love and let it grow. Peace.

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